Thursday, September 27, 2012

Corner Store Survives Landslide

The Unmovable Peggy Lindquist; First A Scary Building Purchase and Then A Landslide Hits Damaging Sales at Her Corner Store

Small Miracles Prevent  Its Closure

By Diana L. Chapman
   Grim, more grim and then grimmer.
   It seemed like someone was turning the lights out at the popular Corner Store in San Pedro, known for its catchy community spirit and wacky-fun adventures from soda tasting to a sidewalk chalking art contest for kids and a safe place for neighbors to  hang out.
   Times were rough already for the store when Peggy Lindquist and her husband Bruce  took it over in 2006 and then purchased the building in 2008 for $780,000. Despite all the snazzy attractions such as hundreds of kids showing up to trick-or-treat or Santa's visit at "Miracle at 37th Street" the road where the store is located, sales continued to stagnate.
   "When we bought the property, we thought that was the worst year," Peggy said. "We didn't know how we would make it through that. We were basically operating out of fear."
   The couple didn't know it at the time. Things would get much, much worse. In  June 2011,  Paseo del Mar -- a major artery to the Corner Store buckled and then turned into a sinkhole, closing down the road. By November, giant chunks of the road slipped off into the sea. By now, 25 percent of the store's business plummeted and with tears in her eyes, Peggy and Bruce, were getting ready for layoffs -- and as a last resort --- the store's possible closure.  At that moment, the couple had no idea that their customers and the editor of a local magazine would rescue them.
    "The landslide," Peggy said, "was devastating."
    They tried to face it with humor offering up  "Sink Hole specials" and "Landslider Burgers." Even the 127 kinds of sodas from places like Lebanon, England, Germany, Jamaica and France bearing odd names such as Kick-A-Poo Joy or Jolt Cola or odd tastes -- dry cucumber or jalapeno -- were not pulling people in during the worst economy since the Great Depression. The real estate market had also bottomed out.
    Customer Doug Epperhart said of a potential closure: "Think about the individuals you see at the Corner Store and then subtract them from your life. Huge loss. Where else can you go and know you're going to see someone you want to see?"
    Confiding her fears to one customer, Lindquist later learned the woman went home and put the news up on her face book page. It said something like: "'Help Peggy and Bruce,'" Peggy said. "'They need help.' People started coming in and saying: 'What can I do? What can we buy? We'll buy the biggest thing you have."
    The owners found the generosity shocking and powerfully moving and then found even more help from an unexpected corner. The editor, owner and publisher of San Pedro Today, Joshua Stecker, placed a free ad in his magazine that said:
    "Even a landslide can't keep us down," and provided a map to the Corner Store.
    "I was just in tears," Peggy explained. "It meant so much  to me. He did it out of the goodness of his heart."
   Stecker said for him it was a slam dunk.
   "Why did I help Peggy? It's really a no brainer," the editor said. "I love the Corner Store. I love everything it represents. It's that little slice of Mayberry that we need to keep. We can't let that place fail."
    Having dreamed of owning such a store since childhood and having handled food operations  for Knott's Berry Farm, Peggy found it enticing that she could select her own programs for the store -- something she'd never had a chance to do at Knott's.
   Visiting the Angels Gate Cultural Center, she said, was like a "colorful explosion" so she invited 57 local artists from there to fill the walls, allowed writing classes, art classes and fundraiser after fundraiser for many non-profits in town including the Marine Mammal Care Center and the Point Fermin Light House. She sunk her teeth into the community -- which she wanted to do  --  inviting in neighborhood meetings and jewelers to sale their wares.
    And while sales remained low, Peggy believed she was building on the community spirit first started by Susan McKenna who took it over in 1999 and who was later joined by her friend Marisa Giuffre. The store originally opened as liquor store 65 years ago and turned into a scuzzy, run-down building. But the Australian women had other ideas of what such a store should be. In their country, such places were meant for social gatherings where friendships were built.
    With a European flair, they succeeded in making it exactly that, but decided to move on to other adventures.
   With the help from customers, the Lindquists have now landed on stable ground and sales are climbing -- allowing her to bring in more products. The place is as colorful as any circus and Peggy built on what she knew from Knott's-- old time Americana.
   She added an array of old fashioned candy, cow tales, Mary Janes, coconut bars and wax lips. Gourmet deserts line the glass case from cheesecakes to a myriad of brownies - and a plethora of tasty sandwiches with perky names such as: Walk the Plank, an albacore tuna on squaw or croissant with lettuce and sliced tomatoes.
   Another addition Peggy likes to pride herself on is finding small entrepreneurial products with cool quirks  like Jerry's Famous Hummus "an amazing" product as well as "All Peppered Up" salsa and barbecue sauces.
   The store is also crammed with Melissa and Doug toys, including giant stuffed animals, large giraffes, tigers, horses, make believe cooking play sets, ranches, stickers and art supplies.
    Every day, the Corner Store keeps humming along serving up  lattes and scones, with locals chatting away about local and national politics. It's all still there for one reason; its gutsy customers who refused to allow a landslide let it die.